"Joy and pleasure are as real as pain and sorrow and one must learn what they have to teach. . . ." -- Sean Russell, from Gatherer of Clouds

"If you're not having fun, you're not doing it right." -- Helyn D. Goldenberg

"I love you and I'm not afraid." -- Evanescence, "My Last Breath"

“If I hear ‘not allowed’ much oftener,” said Sam, “I’m going to get angry.” -- J.R.R. Tolkien, from Lord of the Rings

Thursday, February 22, 2018

I Knew It!

Believe it or not, I do think about other things than being snarky about right-wingers.

Northwest Coast totems
I spend a lot of time at Chicago's Field Museum of Natural History, which is no surprise, given my life-long fascination with the natural world and the way it works, which in my mature years has also become a fascination with human cultures and their origins. (Sometimes the processes can be remarkably similar, if mostly metaphorical.) On a couple of recent trips, I noticed the strong resemblance between the iconography of the Northwest Coast peoples of America, the high cultures of Meso-America, and the Polynesian peoples of the Pacific, and in fact an affinity between the art of those groups and certain motifs in Chinese and Japanese depictions of, for example, gods and demons -- common motifs, such as large, staring eyes and protruding tongues as a sign of power. I considered the possibility that there was a common origin somewhere back in the mists of time, especially since evidence points to origins of at least some of the American Indians and the peoples of the Pacific island in close proximity --possibly in Southeast Asia and/or the area of Indonesia and New Guinea.

Well, lo and behold! While reading Joseph Campbell's The Flight of the Wild Gander, a group of his essays that deal with the origins of myth and religion, I ran across a passage in "Bios and Mythos" (pp.30-31 of the New World Library edition of the collected works) in which Campbell notes the work of a number of anthropologists who have entertained similar ideas, specifically the work of Robert Heine-Gedern, who, he says, "showed that late Chou Dynasty art motifs had been somehow diffused from China to Indonesia and Middle America."

Maori totems
And searching through that rag-bag memory of mine, I remember references to the Lapita people of Taiwan, coastal Southeast Asia and the Malay Archipelago, who are generally considered to be the ancestors of the peoples of the Pacific Islands. This ties in with another memory of a reference to the origins of some Amerindian languages in Southeast Asia, but I don't remember the specific locality that was mentioned. (This is kind of a sketchy association, since there are a number of languages spoken in that region, some of which are relatively recent results of movements of peoples from mainland China and possibly India. I really can't confess to be up to snuff on that particular area.)

The bottom line is that there is some validity to my idea of a common artistic tradition between America, East Asia, and the Pacific Islands.

(A side note: at the beginning of the exhibition "Ancient Americas," the Field has a video outlining the two main theories of how people arrived in the Americas from Asia: either via the Bering land bridge during the most recent glaciation, or by boat. These are always presented as two theories in opposition, but it occurs to me that they're not mutually exclusive. Another booby-trap engendered by either/or thinking.)

Polynesian panel

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